If we are to believe the whispered scuttlebutt (since confirmed by major media outlets), the four month old strike by the Writers Guild of America against motion picture producers and studios is about to be settled. No major fanfare. No glorious announcements of victory or statements of solidarity. As public interest waned (actually, it peaked about two days after the walkout was announced) and individual sweetheart deals were brokered, the erosion of purpose finally signaled a surrender. It was never a question of who blinked first. Instead, it became a battle of wits between two entities undeniably bereft of same. The corporate conglomerates wanted to sit on their never-ending pile of profits. The writers wanted to up their residual ante, if only a skoosh. In the end, it looks like both sides got what they wanted - sort of. Since there is more than enough money to go around, who cares about a few percentage points, right?
There were some indirect repercussions, however, reflections and indicators that exposed the transparency of motives on both sides. All deadlocks between management and underlings usually revolve around dollar signs - either in amounts paid out or paid toward other benefits. Squabbles over working conditions and the like are usually reserved for the manufacturing sector, or overly ambitious novels by historically hewed authors. Only sports figures finagle over agency, allegiance, and aftercare. The WGA demands - and the recent Director’s Guild deal and upcoming Screen Actors action - were all about revenue streams: where they are, how much there could be, and the potential payout once the ephemeral wildcatting had begun. Yet after all the accounting, after audits and attributions are made, there are some leftover lessons to be learned. While not inclusive of everything the Writer’s strike showed us, they may be the most lasting impacts.
Nobody Cares About the Golden Globes Anymore
When the completely out of touch Grammys usurp you as a primary, palpitating concern amongst overprivileged superstars, it’s perhaps time to hang up your self-congratulatory backslapping once and for all. The fake front Hollywood Foreign Press Association saw the WGA give them the picket line kibosh, and the resulting press conference crudeness proved how totally irrelevant the award now is. With neither Best Picture winner geared toward an Oscar duplication (Sweeney Todd wasn’t even NOMINATED by the Academy, mind you), it was the pointlessness of the entire concept that caught everyone’s eye. Without the fancy dress dinner and star powered ambience, without the awkward banter between presenters and equally uncomfortable speeches, without its typical place as the premiere indicator of future trophy triumphs, the Globes looked decidedly low rent. No wonder the other shows cancelled or caved at the bargaining table. The last thing these other Emperors need is another example of their underwhelming and irrefutable nakedness.
The Art of Negotiation is in Fact Fingerpainting
Back in the days when management hired plank carrying goons to break the spirit (and the heads) of striking workers, backdoor deals in the dead of night were how compromise was accomplished. But in the months since the writers took up the placard, most of the wheeling and dealing has been done in very open, very inappropriate forums. From newspaper columnists with “exclusive” rights and insight into the process to YouTube videos and other viral elements meant to explain positions, very little actual talking took place. Anyone who wonders why the strike lasted so long can view this peculiar parley’s scattered approach and realize this ain’t no Pirates of the Caribbean. Captain Jack Sparrow and his buccaneer brood aren’t arriving anytime soon to smile and wink their way through the bargaining. Serious negotiations call for serious attitudes and approaches. Apparently, the new business model is to whine and walk away. Then you can do both in public, over and over again.
The Digital Age = The Death of Unions?
Harlan Ellison used to warn that, once a writer started undervaluing his or her efforts, there was no stopping the exploitation of the work by publishers and producers. This has been the cornerstone of the WGA’s position - the new online entertainment domain, with its multiple permutations for delivering content, has the potential to rob the creative element of their rightful ownership, copyright, and residuals. But there’s a catch many don’t realize, a blowback that offers little comfort - the medium they are marching over is inundated with unpaid “professionals”. From bloggers to recently ‘retired’ print critics, the Internet survives on, and for the most part thrives on, the use of genuine ‘free’-lancers. So how do highly paid scribes, already sitting on ever-fattening paychecks for their initial efforts, convince a compromised audience that their point is valid? In essence, they don’t. As long as their coffers are covered, few outside the fold care. It’s like the ritzy Lexus owner pulling into Wal-Mart. They’re happy to support the cheap and easy access to what they need. But they’ll be damned if they’ll take up the cause of the underpaid employee delivering it.
TV Will Still Love It Some Reality
Even as many “popular” shows close shop, waiting for the day they can bring back their double digit script squads and pay them outrageous fees to come up with feeble sitcom fodder, couch potatoes are proving that they prefer the tangy taint of non-fiction foolishness. Shows like The Moment of Truth and Bad Girls Club have been far more buzz worthy in recent weeks, while the return of a surefire stalwart like Lost felt like an anticlimactic afterthought. When push comes to weekly drama shove, audiences will turn over to see whores (both male and female) acting inappropriate time and time again. This month alone offers another Survivor, more American Idol, a pre-summer return of Big Brother, another Flavor of Love (a show now intentionally mocking itself), more balding Brett Michaels, and enough variations of all the above to keep your typical TV addicted Nielsen family in faux reality hog heaven for the next few weeks. By then, the writers will be back doing what they do best - not that anyone will notice.
Film Writing Will Still Suck
Let’s face it - none of this is about quality. Writers are not worried about delivering coherent characterization or inventive narrative concepts to your next Cineplex jaunt. Instead, we’re back to square one in the aesthetic battle - money - and the last time anyone checked, the size of the payout had very little to do with the quality of the script. Studios don’t buy screenplays based on how wonderful they are artistically. Nor are they purchasing product they feel will appeal to a limited segment of the often marginalized movie-going population. Filmmaking is a gamble, and only high rollers get the massive box office returns. So studios love to hurl large quantities of cash at the most mediocre of ideas (or worse, journeymen who’ve managed to luck into a leftfield hit or soft market moneymaker) and nothing the WGA is doing will change that. Instead, this is just about that cold hard cash coming out of your wallets - which by the way is the only say we have in this upper crust pissing match.